Rankin: You Ask The Questions

Do photographers really deserve their reputation as egomaniacal womanisers? And what has been the defining image of the year, so far?
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The Independent Online

John Rankin Waddell was born in Glasgow in 1966. After dropping out of an accountancy course at Brighton Polytechnic in 1986, he enrolled at the London College of Printing to study photography. While there, he met the journalist Jefferson Hack. In 1991 they launched the style magazine Dazed & Confused. Rankin is now considered one of the world's leading photographers; he has photographed Madonna, Tony Blair and the Queen. He lives in London and is divorced from the actress Kate Hardie, with whom he has a son, Lyle.

John Rankin Waddell was born in Glasgow in 1966. After dropping out of an accountancy course at Brighton Polytechnic in 1986, he enrolled at the London College of Printing to study photography. While there, he met the journalist Jefferson Hack. In 1991 they launched the style magazine Dazed & Confused. Rankin is now considered one of the world's leading photographers; he has photographed Madonna, Tony Blair and the Queen. He lives in London and is divorced from the actress Kate Hardie, with whom he has a son, Lyle.

Do you consider yourself photogenic?
Amanda Thomas, Lincoln

No. Not at all. I don't like photos of myself. I hate them. You become very critical of yourself when you take photos of beautiful people all the time. It's difficult, especially if you're short and fat. Having said that, I've just started a self-portrait project. In one series, I've put my head on photographs of celebrities that I've taken. I think that's funny. In one, I'm Kate Moss. In another, I'm a Spice Girl.

What did you suggest to the Queen for your Golden Jubilee shoot? What did she suggest? And what do you think the resulting shot captured about her?
James Harper, by e-mail

I got five minutes with her, so I had to get straight in there and start shooting. I wanted to photograph her with the sword that she knights people with, but she said she didn't think it would make a particularly good image. Then the lead fell out of my camera and she thought it was very funny. Once I'd seen her laugh, I knew I wanted to get a picture of that, because it's the point at which she looks the most unguarded. So I just had to make her laugh again. And it was really hard. I said 'ma'am' in all the wrong ways. And I sort of did an Austin Powers "that's great, that's great" sort of thing. I don't know what she thought of the final image, but she did say she liked the stitching on the flag in the background.

Photographers have developed a reputation for being egomaniacal womanisers. How do you plead?
Mel Gait, Reading

I plead "not guilty" now, because I've stopped all that. A lot of photographers are like that, don't get me wrong, and I was terrible in the past. Anyone who gets successful gets stupid. And unfortunately, being a photographer, you have access to the best playground in the world.

How did you persuade Helena Christensen to pose for that Dazed & Confused scratch-card cover?
Bob Maxwell, London

I was very naughty, actually. I don't think she knew that she was posing naked when I took the photo. She was kind of covering herself up and I just got a couple of shots in when she was revealing a little bit more. So it was quite cheeky. Helena doesn't like doing nudes and she was very pissed off with me immediately afterwards, but I think she liked the cover in the end. She knew the shot would have a scratch card over it, but she didn't realise quite how naked she was going to be underneath.

How often does your camera lie?
Sue Jacobs, by e-mail

All the time. All photographs are lies. Every photograph is a mixture of my perception of someone and their perception of themselves. You can never be objective about an image.

Which successful photographers are artists? And which are not?
Kirstie Plummer, Wolverhampton

I think time turns photographs into art. Saying that you're an artist doesn't make you one. I think you can now say that Richard Avedon was an artist, but when he was working he wouldn't have considered himself one.

Would you hang Lucian Freud's portrait of a pregnant Kate Moss on your wall?
Tom Spencer, Leeds

It's funny, because I used to have a photograph of Kate naked in my flat, but I took it down when Jefferson started seeing her because I thought it was inappropriate. It was a photograph that I'd taken for Dazed & Confused. You couldn't see anything. I just liked the photo. For women to be very successful at modelling, they have to have a lot more going on than how they look. It's especially true of Kate. She's an amazing person. She could have been a politician. She could have been many things. As for the Lucian Freud portrait - I would love to have any of his paintings on my wall, let alone one of Kate.

What, for you, has been the defining image of 2004 so far?
Lily Brooks, Wantage

The photograph of George Bush on the phone, receiving John Kerry's call conceding the election. That was it - the next four years done for.

I understand that you almost became an accountant. Any regrets?
Harry Christie, London

Well, I regret that I didn't study harder when I was doing it, because I'm not very financially astute. I did a foundation year as part of the training to become a chartered accountant. And I did really well in the first term, got incredibly bored in the second term and by the third term, I just knew it wasn't right. I had been put in halls of residence with all these art students, and I realised that their lives were much more exciting than mine.

If a subject begs you not to use a particular shot, do you listen?
Elizabeth Bright, Hove

Yes, almost always. I've got a set of photographs of Britney Spears that I could have made a five-figure sum out of, but she didn't like them.

You recently shot the Dove campaign featuring "normal" women. And you have pioneered the use of unusual models in Dazed & Confused. Would you welcome the death of the fashion industry's body fascism?
Penelope Smith, Birmingham

No. The fashion industry should use a wider variety of models, but I really believe in the fantasy of fashion. I'm as seduced by it as anyone else. And so I wouldn't want the standard model shape to be banned. One thing I would like to see, though, is model agencies having codes of practice when they work with younger girls, so that they aren't just dropped into this crazy world. We sometimes use very young models in Dazed & Confused, and I don't always think that it's appropriate. I think that we should work from within to improve the industry. But I don't think we should exclude anyone from it.

Could you make it as a war photographer?
Pippa Owen, by e-mail

No. God, no. I'd shit my pants. I wanted to be a war photographer when I first started at the London College of Printing, but I realised pretty quickly that I was a portrait photographer. But I don't think I would find roughing it difficult, although I'm more used to five-star hotels these days. I'm anti-war - all war - and I think that everybody should be. I would rather photograph the world from a balloon.

How do you rate yourself as a photographer, a boss, a father and a human being?
Catherine Arthur, Portsmouth

I'm a good photographer. I'm seen as a tough boss, but I'm actually very supportive of the people I work with. I'm a good father, a loving father. And I think I'm a pretty average human being.

Rankin is currently exhibiting at Enterprise Works, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, London, SE1, 11-28 November. Free

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